UPDATED with video: Donald Trump is not morally fit to be President of the United States, former FBI Director James Comey told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an interview broadcast Sunday.
It’s Comey’s first interview since he was sacked by Trump and also the launch of his tour in service of plugging his new book A Higher Loyalty, coming out Tuesday.
In the book, he writes that Trump is unethical and un-tethered to the truth, prompting Stephanopoulos to ask, “Is Donald trump unfit to be President?”
“Yes, but not in the way I often hear people talk about it,” Comey responded, saying he does not buy this “stuff” about Trump being mentally incompetent or in the early stages of dementia.
“He strikes me as a person of above average intelligence who’s tracking conversations and knows what’s going on.
“I don’t think he is medically unfit to be President – I think he’s morally unfit to be President.”
“A person who sees moral equivalence in Charlottesville, who talks about and treats women like they’re pieces of meat, who lies constantly about matters big and small and insists the American people believe it, that person’s not fit to be president of the United States, on moral grounds. And that’s not a policy statement. I don’t care what your views are on guns, or immigration, or taxes,” Comey said, insisting it’s far more important that “Our president must embody respect and adhere to the values that are at the core of this country. The most important being ‘truth.’ This President is not able to do that. He is morally unfit to be President.”
Asked whether he thinks the Russians have anything on Trump, Comey said, “I think it’s possible. I don’t know. These are more words I never thought I’d utter about a President of the United States, but it’s possible.”
“That’s stunning,” Stephanopoulos responded.
“It is stunning and I wish I wasn’t saying it. But it’s the truth.”
And in what could make White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s next encounter with Trump interesting, Comey said he talked Kelly out of quitting the Trump administration the day Trump sacked Comey. Comey was in Los Angeles at the time and discovered he’d been fired when he saw it on a television screen.
“John Kelly, then Secretary of Homeland Security, called me and said he was very upset,” Comey recalled. “He said he had seen the news and he intended to resign because he wouldn’t work for people who would treat someone like me in such a dishonorable way.”
Comey begged Kelly, now White House Chief of Staff, not to quit, the former FBI chief told Stephanopoulos.
“I said, ‘Please don’t do that. This President needs people of character and principle around him – especially this President. We need you to stay and serve the country.’ ”
Should Kelly call him today with the same message, however, his response would be quite different, Comey said.
He would now tell Kelly, “I understand. I think you sacrificed as much as you really can of yourself for the country and no one would begrudge you leaving. You have done your absolute best. It’s come at a cost to you, but no one can blame you.”
We are living in a “dangerous time,” Comey wrote in A Higher Loyalty.
“I think it is and chose those words carefully,” Comey told Stephanopoulos.
“If we lose tethering of our leaders to the truth, what are we?”
Interest in tonight’s interview was keen, given how high the bar had been set by ABC News when it aired some of the taped interview’s juicier bits on Friday’s Good Morning America by way of plugging the one-hour special.
Heading into tonight’s airing of the taped interview, we already knew from Friday:
– Trump was obsessed with the Pee Tape and told Comey he might want Comey to investigate whether Russia had a recording of an incident he has insisted did not happen, in which he allegedly hired hookers to urinate on the Moscow hotel room bed where President Obama slept.
– Comey wrote that Trump is orange, his hair appears to be his own, and he compared his hand size to Trump’s when they met, determining Trump’s “was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
– Comey likened Trump to a mafia boss, demanding loyalty “like Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony.”
– Comey is “sorry” Hillary Clinton is angry about his decision to holding pressers about the FBI’s probes of her email practices and acknowledged he assumed Clinton would win the election during that period.
Anticipating the worst from tonight’s Comey interview broadcast, Trump trash-tweeted the former FBI chief in the morning: